I’m pretty sure the WWJD? fad is dead and decaying in the landfill of Christian knick-knacks, and good riddance, but the question has always been and continues to be absolutely relevant. The problem was not the question; the problem was the hawking of the question, the branding of the question. But the question, for all that, is still essential to Christian discipleship.
The other problem with the fad was the nearly-immediate indications that the usual evangelical guardrails and idolatries were in full swing. People were interested in asking the question mostly or largely within the preconceived notions of what they already thought Jesus would do. Jesus would be very concerned about the things I’m very concerned about: recycling and reducing my carbon footprint. I haven’t heard about any revivals that broke out wherein the wearers of said bracelets began reading their Bibles carefully and suddenly repented of their previous well-loved sins and began walking in a radical holiness against the rising tide of unbelief. Of course we serve the Lord of the Universe, and I’ll not be surprised to meet a band of brothers in glory who did use the motto to some glorious end, but the point stands in general. There was no wide spread repentance for abortion or homosexuality or porn habits or greed.
And for lots of evangelicals, there were no serious discussions about which tables should be flipped over at the next Mega Super Christian Conference, which Christian leaders should be sarcastically mocked on Facebook, or which evangelical taboos should be joyfully breached. But isn’t that what Jesus did? And suddenly the air goes out of the room, and everyone gets nervous. Turns out the Ben Franklin-Neutered Bible was the one everyone was sort of assuming you’d use to get your ideas from. This is the Disney-fied, warm-feelings gospel of vague sentimentality and saccharine schmaltz. And all of that is bad enough, but there’s an assumption lurking beneath it all that’s even worse.
So the first false assumption is that Jesus only said nice things and did nice things for all the nice people (which is pretty much everybody except Hitler and Stalin and Trump). Jesus was an effeminate, benevolent wizard who went around lisping sweet nothings of kindness and grace and sprinkling glitter on everyone wherever He went. This is problematic on many levels, and chief among them is the fact that it’s just not true. But it’s not true in both directions: it’s not true in the sense that Jesus also mocked hypocrisy, denounced false teachers, intentionally enraged religious leaders, and told stories intending to confuse the listening crowds. But it’s also not true in the other direction: Jesus was not indiscriminately merciful and gracious to all. And this is the other assumption lurking in the shadows: a denial of the particularity of God’s sovereign love.
In other words, Jesus healed some people and not others. He spoke to some people and not others. He explained His parables to some people and not others. He comforted some; He discouraged others.
Now here’s the point: As soon as someone starts trying to actually imitate Jesus and launch a sarcastic takedown of a famous and respected Christian leader for their hypocrisy, all the cries arise about that not being very Christ-like. And then when the fellow points out the fact that Jesus did in fact do that very sort of thing, the immediate comeback is “well, but you’re not Jesus.” To which one good answer is, “I know, but I’m still supposed to try.” But notice that if you stand up and say, “I love everyone!” — you won’t receive the same pushback: “Hold it, bud, you’re not Jesus.” Heh. Not a chance. The assumption is that it’s perfectly acceptable to be indiscriminate with kindness and love and mercy (so-called), but it’s not acceptable to imitate the militance of Jesus.
And the insidious, demonic lie riding beneath all this is the belief that indescriminate “kindness” and “love” and “mercy” are always automatically good, and that hatred and anger and militance are only (at best) occasionally (but only very rarely) good. Love and kindness is a straightforward good; and hatred and anger are dangerous.
But this is not biblical at all.
All of these verbs need direct objects in order to declare their value. Love what? Kind to whom? Mercy to whom? Hate what? Angry at what? Why? By what standard?
God is angry with the wicked every day. Hell is the place where God’s wrath burns forever against evil men. God shows mercy to some, and passes over others. God loved Jacob, and He hated Esau.
What would Jesus do? Sometimes Jesus would not give money to the missionaries. Sometimes Jesus would praise the lavish sacrifice of a costly oil poured on his feet. Sometimes Jesus would rebuke the alcoholic beggar. Sometimes Jesus would heal the blind beggar. Sometimes Jesus would eat with pharisees. Sometimes Jesus would mock the scribes.
Now, from one vantage, this kind of selectivity can only be seen as capricious and random. But from a biblical perspective, God’s selectivity is driven by His infinite wisdom and holy priorities.
Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory…?
And Jesus says, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect” (Mt. 5:48). In our flesh, we think this means “playing god,” blessing and damning randomly, like two school boys smashing ants on a sidewalk. But Jesus already addressed that problem: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Mt. 5:44). And “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).
So our task is to learn wisdom, and specifically, we must learn the wisdom of the cross. Far too many Christians think that the wisdom of the cross is a bland, random act of losing that God magically turned into the power of salvation. But it wasn’t that at all. The cross was God’s intentional, premeditated act of loving wisdom, exhaustively calculated to save “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev. 7:9). The cross also included the intentions of wicked men who thought they had put God in a jar. It included the folly of cowardly disciples hiding in the shadows. It included a big rock rolled in front of the tomb and a regiment of soldiers standing outside. It included all the sins of God’s people fully paid for without any remainder. It included all of the rebellion and hypocrisy and brokenness of the saints. It also includes within it the eternal condemnation of all sin, which is great mercy for all of those who trust in Christ and it is the damnation of all those who reject Him. In other words, the cross took all of human history, all our human woe, all our sorrow, all our brokenness, all our guilt and shame into account, and God said to the Devil, ‘Check mate.’ The cross is not a sentimental story about how God feels about the human race. The cross is God’s wise and determined action to deal with the human race once and for all. What would Jesus do? He would freely obey His Father’s will for the joy set before Him.
One of my favorite stories I’ve heard about Jim Wilson’s ministry was the time he had some fellow over to his house who needed counsel, and one of the kids kept running through the room and asking his dad questions. Eventually the guest got a bit upset by this and asked Jim if he could make the kid stop interrupting, and Jim said, “No, I can’t do that. He’s more important than you.”
God’s love is no bland sentimentalism. God’s love is fierce and daring and meticulous and calculated and righteous and lavish and wise. And we are called to imitate that.